A Man By Any Other Name

As of Tuesday, September 17th, 2013, I am legally Zachary Andrew, and my gender is legally male.

How about that?

Awesome housemate and partner-in-crime Ryan and I got up disagreeably early on Tuesday in order to drive the near-hour to the San Mateo County Superior Court in Redwood City. The hearing was scheduled for 9:00 AM, but between traffic and parking, we were a couple minutes late. Fortunately two other excellent friends, Bea and C, who both live in Redwood City, were meeting us there. C was also suffering parking challenges, but Bea had gotten there in plenty of time and texted us what courtroom we needed to be in (2J), and that my case was tenth on the docket, so our tardiness was not a problem.

After circling the parking garage a few times we found a spot. Then we had to remove our belts and pocket contents and etc to pass through the metal detector. I was wearing my nicest dark jeans, which are just a tad loose in the waist. Sans-belt they made an immediate bid for escape, but I managed to grab a belt loop and keep myself decent long enough to assure the deputies that I was not harboring any weapons.

San Mateo County Superior Court

Re-assembled, we went to the courtroom. It was surprisingly full. Two-thirds of the observer seats were taken by attorneys, plaintiffs, defendants, and the occasional cop or two in uniform, presumably there to give evidence. Lining the wall to the door, several more attorneys clutched folders and documents, and looked variously impatient, bored, and grim as they waited for their cases to be called.

Bea, Ryan, and I had to squeeze past a portly and unimpressed-with-us policeman in order to get seats. C arrived after us, and had to sit two rows behind.

Now here’s something I wasn’t expecting at all: the judge was hearing criminal cases. I figured civil matters like name changing would be in a separate courtroom from preliminary hearings on things like bank fraud, felony assault, and restraining orders, but nope. Among others, there was a young woman there to sue for an order of protection who was clearly uncomfortable having to stand right next to the man she was asking for protection from as she made her request (it was granted, thank goodness.) And a Spanish-speaking man accused of assault whose attorney hadn’t shown up—when the court reporter looked up the name of the attorney the man gave, she could find no record of such an attorney even being an officer of the court. I felt really bad for that guy.

So there I am in this room full of mostly unhappy, tense, anxious, and/or bored people. The more cases the judge called, the more nervous I got, until I had to clench my nails into my palms to try to force my heart to stop racing. Finally the judge said, “Let’s turn to the name changes for a minute.” And then he called my name.

My birth name.

So I, bearded and manly, in a fabulous orchid-purple dress shirt, charcoal vest, dark jeans, and my favorite cowboy boots, stood up, squeezed past the unimpressed policeman again, and went to stand at the same tables where all the other plaintiffs had stood before me. I was close to having a coronary event as I said, “Yes, that’s me. I’m Florence. For now.”

I don’t know what I was expecting after I raised my right hand and took the oath. I guess maybe I thought the judge was going to ask me to go over my reasons for changing my name, maybe ask some hard-hitting questions about my trans*ness. I was ready to do battle to prove I deserved that my petition for name and gender change be granted. But what he did was look at the application I’d filed weeks ago, and ask me, “Is everything in this petition the truth?”

I was so unprepared for that, I blue-screened for a moment. All I could think was, I haven’t seen that document in weeks, I can’t remember what I said in it. I know I didn’t lie about anything… I looked at the judge like a deer caught in the headlights and squeaked, “Yes?”

He didn’t seem bothered by my uncertainty. He just went right on. “I see you have your proof of publication, and your letter from your doctor… yes, yes… Does any one here have an objection to this name change?”

Silence. Thank God.

“Then I order that from this day forward, your True Full Name is Zachary Andrew McC–.” My True Full Name, like something a wizard would use to cast a spell. Something that brings an entity into being. “That’s Z-A-C-H-A-R-Y,” he spelled out for the court reporter. “And your gender is male.” Stamp, stamp, went his big and official seal of judgement on my documents. He smiled at me. “Congratulations, Mr. McC–.”

My grin was a mile wide.

But here’s the really surprising thing: the whole courtroom applauded. I expected my friends to applaud, but when the judge said congratulations, and I heard applause, it was clear it came from quite a few more than just the three friends who’d come with me. I thanked the judge and turned around to find that just about everyone in that courtroom—the anxious plaintiffs and defendants; the grim, bored, impatient attorneys; even the unimpressed policeman—were smiling and cheering for me.

As we went out of the courtroom, a blonde police woman winked and gave me a thumbs up.

Bea, whose wife is from Hawaii, gave me a lei. We hugged, and got someone to take our picture. And then we went out for pancakes (well, I had French toast, but there was real maple syrup.)

Ryan, C, Zach, and Bea, outside the courtroom

Ryan, C, Zach, and Bea, outside the courtroom

The afternoon was much duller, and involved waiting for a long time at the Social Security office to change my name and gender there, now that I had my court order, but that’s not the important part. The important part is I legally changed my name and gender. I was scared to death when I started this process two and a half years ago. And scared to death again finalizing it in front of an indifferent and possibly hostile crowd of strangers.

And those strangers cheered for me and congratulated me. Just as all along the way, my family and friends have cheered for me.

I know the Bay Area is a tolerant place, and I’m lucky to live here. I know my family are dyed-in-the-wool social liberals who firmly believe in LGBT rights. I know my friends are behind me 100% even when they don’t understand me. But even so. Even so. I didn’t expect that kind of support.

Thank you, courtroom full of strangers. Thank you, judge. Thank you, friends. Thank you family.

I made it.


~ by Nezu on 25 September 2013.

5 Responses to “A Man By Any Other Name”

  1. That’s so awesome – both the legal finalization and the applause. Congratulations!

  2. That is so cool to have strangers applaud you being you. Congrats!

  3. I wish I could have been there to cheer! Watching, waiting and hoping with you (across the miles) has been a privilege. Thanks for sharing your journey. I have a funny feeling it has only just begun, sir!

  4. wow! tears in my eyes reading this. the world is turning & I’m so proud of you for following your truth so passionately & confidently. you are amazing!!

  5. Yay! *hugs*

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